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Editorial: Don't block questions in Diet about Moritomo Gakuen scandal

The ruling coalition has attempted to avoid debate in the Diet on a scandal surrounding the sale of a state-owned land lot to the Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen school corporation.

An opposition Democratic Party (DP) legislator urged during deliberations at the House of Representatives Health, Labor and Welfare Committee last week that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie publicly provide an explanation of whether she was involved in the case. At the time, the panel was deliberating a bill to amend the legislation on the nursing care insurance system. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) reacted sharply against the demand, saying, "The issue isn't related to what is being deliberated now," and the panel railroaded the bill.

It is true that the issue of whether Akie Abe was involved in the scandal is irrelevant to the bill. However, the ruling coalition has refused to summon the first lady and others to provide sworn testimonies before the Diet over the scandal. If the ruling bloc were to say the panel is not suited to have discussions on the scandal, then intensive deliberations specifically on the Moritomo Gakuen scandal should be held in the Diet, but the ruling coalition has also refused to do this.

The DP legislator pointed out in the session that an opinion poll conducted by a news organization showed that numerous members of the public think that those allegedly involved in the scandal should provide sworn testimonies before the legislature.

In response, Prime Minister Abe said, "The same poll shows that the approval rating for the Cabinet is 53 percent. You know the approval ratings for the LDP and the DP."

The statement that the prime minister made as if to say there were no need to summon those concerned to testify under oath over the scandal because his Cabinet has enjoyed high approval ratings came as a surprise.

It has come to light that a civil servant assigned to assist Akie Abe accompanied her on campaign trails for ruling party candidates during the 2016 House of Councillors election a total of 13 times -- in spite of a restriction on political activities by public servants.

The government has explained that Akie Abe covered the travel expenses for the official and characterized her support of LDP candidates in campaign trails as her private activities. The government, meanwhile, recognized the official's accompaniment of the first lady as part of their official duties, but said the official did so at their own discretion. The government's explanations are difficult to understand.

Akie Abe's failure to clearly distinguish between private and public matters in her activities is a focal point in efforts to get to the bottom of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal. However, when it surfaced that an official assigned to assist the first lady inquired with the Finance Ministry over the school operator's purchase of the state-owned land lot, aides to the prime minister concluded that the official made the inquiry in a personal capacity. The government has since made incoherent explanations over the matter.

One cannot help but suspect that the governing bloc has tried to block questions from opposition parties about the Moritomo Gakuen scandal because the coalition surmises that the prime minister and his aides cannot provide a coherent explanation of the matter.

The Diet has yet to uncover why the state-owned land lot was sold to the school operator at a price far below its appraised value and whether it can be determined that Akie Abe was never involved in the deal.

Akie Abe and others concerned should hold a news conference or testify before the Diet under oath over the scandal.

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